Commenting on my last post, Brandon says that, in fact, like "a thriller" The Road "had a certain 'pulp' quality which makes it fun", contrary to Levi Asher's dismissal. Makes it sound sort of like a "genre" novel, doesn't it? Which is funny, since I wrote not too long ago that "It's pointless to say that [McCarthy] 'wrote a genre novel'." Well, I still think it's pointless, but largely because it doesn't mean anything. The claim is devoid of content, positing McCarthy as a so-called "literary" writer who has written some undefined thing called "genre". This tells me nothing.
Some might argue that he's always written genre, in the sense of that fiction marketed as "literary fiction", but which doesn't question or ultimately stray from the dominant form of the novel. One of these people might be Ellis Sharp, who writes that McCarthy's writing doesn't "engage" him: "Although the prose looks more technically up to date than [Kiran] Desai’s I’m not entirely convinced that they are quite as far apart as all that." Ellis notes this McCarthy sentence from the same extract presented by Asher: "And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders." When I first read this sentence I tripped over the "sightless as the eggs of spiders", and I would have hard time arguing against Ellis' assessment that this is bad writing. (I like this comment from Ellis: "McCarthy’s eye is on the reader – not the creature.") And yet, as mentioned in the last post, I liked the "glaucoma" simile from earlier in the passage, as well as the insistent rhythm of the prose. Those carry more weight with me than the later poor sentence, at least in keeping me interested in reading the book.
Also in his comment, Brandon observes that McCarthy "constantly bounces between really good and laughably poor" and that, for him, "[t]his is part of his appeal". How much work do readers do forgiving bad writing in search of story? A lot, I think. I'm usually not interested in doing it. I'm happy to expend even considerable effort when I read, but I'm not interested in forcing my way through bad or clunky prose because there just might be some "story" lurking behind there somewhere. I'll say more on this point later. I've already said that McCarthy is not a key writer for me; indeed, the books of his I have read did not compel me to seek out the rest of his fiction. We'll see what happens when I read The Road.